Take a breath….
Breathing is one of those things we all do, yet we rarely think about it; when a system like the respiratory works without us having to think about it or make it happen, it’s called “involuntary.” The respiratory system has the unique ability to work all on its own without our help, unlike the muscular system, which works voluntarily.
This month is Mental Health Awareness Month and it’s a perfect time to tune in and tap into how powerful our breath actually is.
When we breathe, we get this precious gift called life. We can survive 21 days without food, seven days without water but can only go one to three minutes without oxygen. And at the 60-second mark, brain cells are already dying. Yet after 20 years of teaching yoga to others, there is one thing I have come to find, many do not like to breathe. I would often notice few would appreciate the art of breathing practices (pranayama) in yoga. You could see people start to fidget, become distracted, and even get annoyed at the idea that they weren’t “doing anything” during their yoga class. Yet without the ability to breathe, nothing on the yoga mat would even be possible.
Breathing is a tool. Those that learn to harness the device and tap into its vast abilities to improve, help and even heal the body get to reap the benefits of increased vitality, health, and happiness. But time and time again, I have observed others choose pills, alcohol, and even violence to manage what we all call stress or our emotions rather than tap into this tool we are all born with and have access to us at any given time.
Stress can alter just about any system in the body if we allow it to.
- Raise our blood pressure
- Increase our heart rate
- Increase our body temperature
- Leave us in physical pain
- Can decrease our immune system
- Give us stomach discomfort
- Make it difficult to sleep
- Can affect your libido
- Tense your muscles
- Cause weight gain
- Burden your nervous system
- Leave shallow breathing
When is the last time you felt the effects of any of the above and thought you should practice deep breathing?
When my oldest son was small, and he’d get stressed out, the first thing I would have him do is deep breathing. Three deep breaths, I’d say, and we’d do them together. He’s now nearly a teenager, and I have observed him repeatedly defaulting to deep breathing when he is stressed, angry, frustrated, or can’t sleep. He automatically uses this incredible tool we all walk around with every day but rarely tap use voluntarily.
The average American breathes with less than 18% of their lung capacity. That’s what I like to call clavicle breathing. It’s no wonder we are a stressed-out, upset, unhealthy out of touch society. I say these are the very things I have felt before yoga and learning how to tap into my breathing. And the same things I think when I’m not in my body, using my breathing, and feeling grounded in my skin.
How do we breathe?
The average person takes about ten breaths per minute; that’s an average of 22,000-24,000 breaths per day. That’s a lot of breathing. And when we breathe, we inhale necessary oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide and toxins that our body wants to remove. When we breathe, our lungs expand and take in air, and our diaphragm lowers and expands as well, taking in oxygen to then be distributed out to the millions of cells throughout our body that need that fresh oxygen to live.
Dr. James Hoyt, a pulmonologist, says, “Our respiratory muscles don’t have the luxury of being out of shape.” Yet how many people can say with certainty that they use them, work them, build them like their bicep regularly? There is a saying, “use it or lose it,” and it fits here with our breathing.
A recent study in the Journal of Neurophysiology may support this, revealing that several brain regions linked to emotion, attention, and body awareness are activated when we pay attention to our breath.
And, also nearly every system in the body is connected to our respiratory system or breathing.
- Our metabolism increases when we practice deep breathing.
- Our autonomic nervous system regulates when we deep breathe.
- Our digestion can settle and improve when deep breathing.
- Our muscles relax and get total oxygen, helping them not to cramp.
- Our lymphatic systems become stimulated, hand and hand, with our immune system, both stimulated when we breathe.
- Our body is fully oxygenated when we deep breathe.
And one of our deep breathing’s most impressive features is that it stimulates our vegas nerve.
What is the vagus nerve?
The vagus nerve is the longest of the cranial nerves, extending from the brainstem to the abdomen through multiple organs, including the heart, esophagus, and lungs. It controls the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which contains your relaxation response. Most people never breathe deep enough to stimulate this impressive nerve. We need the vagus nerve to be alive and working because the vagus nerve controls your mood, heart rate, digestion, and immune response. Stimulating your vagus nerve can help to regulate many functions in your body.
Vagus nerve stimulation has been linked to treating epilepsy, improving digestive conditions, reducing inflammation, and managing anxiety disorders. The journal Frontiers in Neuroscience reported in 2018 that the poor function of the vagus nerve could lead to mood and anxiety disorders. But most importantly, when you stimulate the vagus nerve, you can reduce anxiety, stress, and mood disorders. All of this can happen when you learn to breathe more deeply and more often.
WAKE UP, PEOPLE! BREATHING IS FREE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Where does your breathing fall?
Clavicle Breathers: Those that breathe only into the upper chest, throat, and shoulders. These breathers often have lifted shoulders and a tense neck.
Chest Breathers: Those that breathe into the center of the chest.
Abdominal Breathers: Those that breathe deep into the belly and feel their lungs and abdomen expand freely.
We have forgotten our unique ability to help and heal ourselves. When you were a baby, no one had to tell you how to breathe, yet there you were, breathing so deeply that your entire torso was expanding and contracting every breath you took. I have listened and watched my children as infants, and now adolescents get upset and even cry only to default to their breathing to calm them down. It’s in you; you have done it; you have just forgotten how to do it.
Deep Abdominal Breathing Technique:
- Sitting tall or lying down comfortably, place one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart/chest.
- Exhale completely through your mouth and hear your breath move out of your body.
- Inhale through your nose and move your breath deeply into your lower hand (belly) and feel it expand. Continue to move your breath up to notice your upper hand (chest) rise.
- Exhale slowly move the air out, feeling your belly collapse and your chest lower (in any order).
- Soften your jaw and relax your body, focus on fully emptying your belly when you exhale and fully expanding when you inhale.
- Work yourself up towards a count of four counts on the inhale and eight on the exhale.
- Repeat this for two to five minutes.
- Anytime your mind wanders, bring it back to your breathing.
- Allow yourself to hear your breath each time you inhale and exhale.
Continue this practice daily in the morning to wake up, when you are feeling stressed, waiting in traffic (minus the hands-on your body), or before you go to sleep to help you relax.
You have tools to help you breathe, relax, fall asleep. The real question is, are you using them?
Deep Abdominal Breathing Benefits:
Various deep abdominal breathing forms have been linked to cardiovascular benefits, including increased blood flow and improved blood pressure. Deep breathing is also a helpful tool for relaxation and sleep. Taking deep breaths can also help you manage stress and improve cognitive function like brain fog and lack of focus and concentration.
If every tool you are reaching for is outside of yourself, let me ask you, have you tried the tools you were born with? The tools you were given and are the very tools that make this life possible? The tool I am talking about is your breathing.
For one week, practice deep abdominal breathing at least one time a day. Work to practice it at the same time each day. Set the alarm on your phone or in your calendar and make it a priority. All too often, we say something doesn’t work or help, and we have never really tried it, let alone given it the attention required to see results.
After seven days, come back and let us know how you did. What changed, what you noticed or found.
Now take a deep breath and start living!
Stress can be overwhelming and even debilitating. It can cause headaches, muscle tension, difficulty sleeping, and irritability. Obviously, we all know that stress isn’t good for us physically or mentally. So, how do we banish stress in our every day lives?
As a yoga teacher, I encourage others to live a life where they can stay grounded, focused, balanced, and content. Yoga has helped me a great deal with handling stress and the side effects of stress. It helps to relieve tension by keeping me focused on my breath rather than all the thoughts racing through my heads.
Whether you are at home, work, or somewhere in between, yoga is a great way to find stress relief. So, to help you on your journey of finding ways to banish stress, here are three of my favorite yoga poses.
3 Poses to Banish Stress Instantly
This pose is such a surrender for me. When I go here, I instantly let go. As I work to widen my knees slowly, I feel relief to feel such space (even if it doesn’t look like it). The freedom of my body letting go into the safety of the floor for a few minutes is all I need to feel a bit more like myself.
Legs Up With Support Pose
Legs Up With Support Pose
This pose is a go-to to help relieve the physical, emotional, and mental symptoms of stress. The feeling of my sacrum flat to the hard floor and my spine realigning without the burden of gravity is genuinely liberating. This pose allows me to let go. I totally give in to the fact that, at that moment, I am only human and not superwoman. What often starts as just a minute on my mat quickly ends up as ten, and trust me, you won’t be complaining.
Seated Forward Bend Pose
Seated Forward Bend Pose
This pose is often used in yoga therapy to help manage depression. It is also known to soothe headache and anxiety and reduce fatigue. The feeling of bending forward eases the mind. My warm breath against my thighs brings me full circle to the simplicity that I am okay the way I am.
Be gentle to yourself so that life can be gentle back to you. Never force yourself into a forward bend, especially when sitting on the floor. With each inhalation, lift and lengthen the front torso just slightly, with each exhalation release a little more fully into the forward bend. If you are new to this pose, it helps to hold a strap around the feel. If you are incredibly tight, place a rolled-up blanket under your knees for added support. The more you relax in this pose, the more naturally your body will open up.
You Are Worth It
Making things drawn out and complicated only stresses us out more. Don’t overthink it. Sometimes you don’t have the time or the mental discipline to hop onto your mat, and that is okay. I get it. However, what I have discovered is that if you do make the time for yourself, you will see how yoga can help you physically, mentally, and emotionally. You are worth it and you owe it to yourself to make time for you.
And if you want to get professional, inspiring, functionally-safe classes all in the comfort and privacy of your own home. You must check out my online studio. No travel, no hassle, no sitters, and no fuss. This is not your typical yoga or fitness studio–it’s a fresh approach that I know you will enjoy.
If you are experiencing stress right now, here are some other helpful resources:
Meditations for Stress Relief
Mindful Ways to Reduce Stress
Navigating Stress In Life
We have all heard this before: “An attitude of gratitude”. But in the midst of what can feel like uncertainty, it is vital. Let me say that again… it is VITAL that we keep our minds right. Drenching our minds in the news and social media is not going to make things better. But making sure we practice self-care, keep our minds clear and continue to stay calm is something I urge everyone to do.
I went to bed last night thinking a lot about our countries current situation, my life, and what I can do for my family right now and all of you.
Each night my family (my husband and our three kids) and I all pray together and after we all go around and say who or what we want to pray for tonight.
And as we went around I was reminded to not forget the little things. It made me think about how we all can still be grateful for the little things, and remember how we can impact our communities despite such circumstances.
My prayer is for you all to consider a local business to pick up food to go, or inquire about delivery, shipping gifts to that friend or family member or just letting the world know what they are doing as they struggle to remain open, or if they have already made the decision to close.
During this time, I urge you to continue to practice gratitude. To continue to go beyond and help another, even if it means having to take an extra step or two to do that.
Yesterday I made an egg and book delivery (yes I have chickens) to our amazing local cafe Perc Place and I usually just drop and go when delivering eggs or books. But I decided to grab a drink to go and support them.
Perc Place is my office away from my home office and I can’t imagine not having them in my backyard to go to for inspiration. As I stood there in the cafe all I felt was gratitude for the owner and all her staff during this time. So many unknowns, and it’s easy to think “one small act WON’T make a difference”. But, when 10, 25, 100 people all do the same thing. It all adds up. Gratitude adds up!
In order to stay mentally and physically strong in the midst of this unprecedented time. I urge you all to continue to engage in things, activities and with people who lift you up. Help you feel good. And keep you in the right frame of mind. This is VITAL!
What can you do to stay in gratitude each day?
- Go for a walk with your family and talk about positive things
- Get enough sleep
- Drink plenty of water
- Dance in the sunlight
- Write down what you are grateful for each morning
- Listen to meditations or positive recordings/books
Let’s maintain that positive attitude that helps others when we come into contact with them…even if it’s virtually.
I always ask myself “am I a part of the problem or a part of the solution?”
Let’s write out our ideas to make us and our businesses better.
Write out plans and goals that you will do during this pause in life, and what you’re doing afterward.
Then get out any anxiety that may be clouding our heads and hearts out and into the daylight by writing it down. When we write it down, it isn’t as scary.
Then once you write it down… Take action! Get on your yoga mat! Go for a walk! Read, meditate.
You know what?
These can be scary times, but we are so resilient. I’m encouraged by all of the good I see in the world, and how many people are working to help others.
Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers) said in times of crisis, look for the helpers.
I say WE are the helpers.
Let’s keep getting up and taking that time for ourselves each day to better help where we are able.
And to HELP…. I am giving all of my meditations away for $1.
Why a dollar?
Well, I believe that everything is an exchange.
And my heart and soul are in those offerings and I ask that you simply be a part of the exchange back. 🙂 [And these were all professionally recorded just for you.]
>>>>> MEDITATION BUNDLE OF 6 FOR JUST A $1 <<<<<
I believe that we are the ones most responsible for our own health and well-being. It is our privilege that we practice self-care and engage in the right things. And the results will always be better than if we did not.
So remember what you do have control over. Remember how you can impact those around you, by first you being calm, centered, and full of gratitude.
Meditation is an approach to training the mind. It’s just like how an athlete trains their body for a game.
Even though the thoughts of meditation can seem challenging, it is actually pretty simple. First, you choose something to focus your attention on. Once you’ve decided on your focus, the goal of meditation is to keep your attention on it for as long as possible.
So, why should you meditate? Well, meditation has been proven to temporarily alleviate stress, strengthen the mind to cultivate inner peace and improve your overall mental well-being.
The Benefits of Meditation
The benefits of meditation are limitless. In my opinion, meditation is the most valuable activity you can engage in to improve your self-awareness. Self-awareness means recognizing what you are thinking, feeling, and doing when you are doing it. It is a practice of mindfulness, which is the idea of being 100% present and engaged in whatever you’re doing–free from distraction or judgment.
A recent article by Healthline identified the following 12 health benefits of meditation:
- It’s a good way to manage stress
- Minimizes anxiety
- Improves self-image and promotes a positive outlook on life
- Increases self-awareness
- It can be practiced anywhere
Just as there are many different reasons why people meditate, there are also many different types of meditation.
Types of Meditation
Just as there are many different reasons why people meditate, there are also different kinds of meditation. Breath awareness or mindful meditation, is by far my favorite. It helps to reduce stress, anxiety, and anger, and sharpen your concentration and attention skills. When you become more mindful, you are able to accept your thoughts and feelings without judgement. Overall, meditation is about finding awareness and achieving peace in whatever way works best for you.
Here are some great meditations to help focus your mind and relax your body:
1. Mindful Breathing Meditation
Mindful breathing meditation gives you an anchor—your breath—on which you can focus when you find yourself distraught by a stressful thought. Mindfulness distances you from your thoughts and feelings, which can help you work through unpleasant feelings rather than becoming overwhelmed by them. Clear your mental clutter, relax and renew with this 30-minute guided meditation audio.
2. Centered Breathing Meditation
A heart-centred breathing practice focusing on developing appreciation, love and connection all on the waves of your breath. Centered breathing guided meditation uses simple counting to help focus the mind and relax the body.
3. Body Scan Meditation
Body Scan Meditation is designed to help you develop a mindful awareness of your bodily sensations, and learn to release the stress in your body and mind. This mindfulness practice can help to reduce stress, improve your overall well-being and decrease aches and pains. This body scan meditation audio will guide you through gentle exercises to guide you to deeper body awareness.
If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying! Just like many of the other things you set out to do in life, the effort you put into meditation will be directly reflected in your success or lack thereof. When you learn to enjoy the process itself—and work to get better at it—then you are more likely to keep at it long-term and give yourself the best possible results.